The St. Louis Kid
Cast & Crew
Two truck drivers, feisty Eddie Kennedy and his friend, Buck Willets, are taking a load through the country when they are rear-ended by Ann Reid. Eddie immediately quarrels with her, and when a passerby, Brown, stops to aid Ann, Eddie knocks him out and ends up in jail. The sheriff is sympathetic to Eddie because Brown, the district manager for a milk company, cheats farmers of their due. Learning this, Eddie attacks Brown at his trial, claiming he hit Brown for insulting farmers, and the judge dismisses the case. Eddie, Buck and two of Buck's women friends walk to a nearby cafe, which, it turns out, is run by Ann. To get back at Eddie for his sassy remarks about her cooking, she purposely ruins the food on his plate. In retaliation, Eddie hits a crate of eggs intended for her cafe with his truck as he drives away. When he and Buck return to the company, Ann is already there complaining about their behavior. Eddie and Buck are forced to pay her for the damaged eggs. Eddie's courtroom speech inspires a milk war. Harris, the new company manager, puts Eddie and Buck on a run bringing milk in from out of state. Despite their toughness, they are stopped by the farmers, who dump their milk. Naturally, Eddie gets into a fight with the farmers and returns to court in front of the same judge. Angered by Eddie's hypocrisy, the judge sentences him and Buck to jail. Eddie escapes from jail, intending to take revenge on Ann for her actions against him. He leaps into her car as she is driving home, so she goes directly to a party rather than to her house. Eddie makes the best of the situation, and they have such a good time dancing that by the end of the evening, they are in love. Meanwhile, the milk company hires gun-carrying gangsters to ride on the trucks. When they are stopped by the farmers, Benson, one of the farmers, is killed. After dropping Eddie back at the jail, Ann drives by just in time to witness the shooting and is kidnapped by the gangsters. Having discovered Eddie's departure from jail, the judge accuses him of the murder. Eddie manages another escape in order to discover the truth. He learns about the gunmen on the milk run, and examines company records to discover who was on the milk run the night Benson was shot. Through a ruse, he learns where Ann is being held and attempts to rescue her, but the gangsters stop them. Buck, who is worried about Eddie, comes looking for him and surprises the gangsters. Eddie takes advantage of their confusion to knock out the gunmen. They are aided in their escape by the other truckers and the killer is apprehended, clearing the way for Ann and Eddie to get married.
The St. Louis Kid
Production began on July 16, 1934. On July 19, Warner Bros. production chief Hal Wallis sent director Ray Enright a memo, which read in part: "Your first two days' dailies, generally, look very good. The action is good and your set-ups are OK but there is one major criticism and that is in Cagney's characterization... I know that, when he first read the script, he objected to playing another tough character and I can see that he is doing his best to soften him up and make him as much of a gentleman as possible...It is true that we don't want to play him as tough as he usually plays these things as there is naturally an objection to slugging dames and all of that stuff today but, at the same time, we don't want to lose Cagney's real characterization which is a semi-tough character... It is going to hurt the picture considerably unless you change immediately."
In a follow-up memo, Wallis wrote: "I want you to call me...when you get this and let me know if you are directing the picture or if Cagney is directing it." A snide remark, to be sure, but it illustrates the power struggle that often went on as both the studio and the star battled over shaping the star's on-screen persona.
As for Cagney, he later wrote in his autobiography on a tangential issue: "By the time I was ready to do The St. Louis Kid, I was so fed up with walking in and punching people again and again that I called in the makeup man and had him wrap my hands in bandages. In the picture's opening scene, I come out of a courtroom with my hands in this mummy wrap and let it be known to my perennial sidekick, Allen Jenkins, that I was through hitting for him... For the rest of the picture I went around hitting people with my head, all of this in a specific way to vary the old punching formula. I can still hear the reedy voice of St. Louis Kid's producer, 'When are you going to take those bandages off and start punching right?' This gentleman rather failed to understand what I was trying to do. In his book, I was simply trying to foul up his living."
The New York Times joked of Cagney's new punching technique: "He now uses his brain in the most direct fashion he can think of." Some critics complained that the picture would have been far more interesting if it had delved more deeply into the politics of the milk wars, but almost all admired the film's fast pace. Many also noted that the movie inverts a memorable feature of some of Cagney's previous films: "The St. Louis Kid shows James Cagney receiving a cuff on the jaw from his leading lady instead of giving her one," observed Time. "He can take it as well as dish it out," said The New York Times. "He permits himself to be slapped vigorously by Patricia Ellis, [and his] response is limited in violence to what the cinema literateurs picturesquely refer to as a dirty look."
Supporting player Allen Jenkins, a fixture in working-class Warner melodramas and comedies of the era, appeared with Cagney five times, usually as the comic sidekick. In the book Warner Brothers Presents, film historian Ted Sennett wrote vividly of Jenkins: "Cabbie, gangster, manager, sidekick, he had the battered but tenacious look of the urban animal who had been around - and intends to stay around."
Co-star Patricia Ellis, a now-forgotten actress of low-budget 1930s Warner Bros. movies, was a last-minute replacement for Ann Dvorak, who had herself replaced Margaret Lindsay.
Producer: Samuel Bischoff (uncredited)
Director: Ray Enright
Screenplay: Warren Duff and Seton I. Miller; Frederick Hazlitt Brennan (story "The Perfect Week-End")
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Art Direction: Jack Okey
Music: M.K. Jerome and Bernhard Kaun (uncredited)
Film Editing: Clarence Kolster
Cast: James Cagney (Eddie Kennedy), Patricia Ellis (Ann Reid), Allen Jenkins (Buck 'Bucky' Willets), Robert Barrat (John Benson), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Richardson)
by Jeremy Arnold
The St. Louis Kid
The working title of this film was A Perfect Weekend. According to Hollywood Reporter, Ann Dvorak and Margaret Lindsay were considered for the lead opposite James Cagney.